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30 August 2013

A mandate to be mute?

A mandate to be mute?
    Why Christians should care about corruption

Corruption. For many of us it's one of those words that manage to evoke a sharp flash of righteous anger, which quickly fades to an eye-rolling inevitability. Our human nature both loathes and tolerates it in seemingly equal measure.

There are a number of reasons why we ignore corruption, especially here in the UK: it's too big, it's too far away, it doesn't affect me. But are any of these valid objections, and if not does our theology help us steer a path through this minefield?

It is certainly true that corruption is pervasive. It's everywhere from European boardrooms to Latin American courtrooms to African pulpits. And corruption is slippery – it defies definition, is often unethical rather than illegal and gradually becomes culturally acceptable through habit. The UK is slowly revealing its shadier secrets highlighted by the MP expenses scandal, tax havens in 'The UK Gold' documentary and the huge corporate tax avoidance stories. But if it's too big to tackle and it's clearly in the UK, it stands to reason corruption affects us,even if we're unaware of it on a daily basis.

Big issues have never intimidated Christians, so why has the Church been slow to respond to this invidious systemic mindset?

Maybe it's because reflections on good governance are something of a theological wasteland. In the first instance biblical reflection is often just that! It responds to cultural, social and political realities rather than anticipating them. Theology has a habit of catching up with reality.And good governance is a complicated reality that academics and practitioners are still trying to unravel. The relationship between corrupt governments, shady business deals, opaque practices and offshore investments means governance is not a one-size-fits-all matter. As a result,complexity has inhibited effective response and postponed the biblical reflection that motivates people of faith to act.

"Any Christian serious about the Bible is obliged to be serious about biblical advocacy"

 But perhaps Christians should be more visibly creating that effective response. We may not be policy experts or governance buffs, but we are people that understand biblical principles. The Bible is overwhelming in its concern for improper trading and God's concern for 'honest scales' comes again and again. There are clear hints at honesty and transparent lifestyles from Matthew (Matt hew 5:14;5:37) and in Jesus' encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9). Pivotal moments in biblical history reveal the effects of corruption and secrecy: humankind's first mistake included a game of hide-and-seek (Genesis 3:8); Israel demanded a king because of oppressive greed and bribery from Samuel's sons (1 Samuel8:1-5); and Jesus himself was betrayed by a bribe (Matthew 26: 14-16). From a biblical perspective the agitation for good governance is not political action; it is written into God's moral code.

The mission to declare God's goodness is integral to our mission in the world and integrated into our light-shining task. This is the only way in which a just God can really be understood to be good in His own world.And it's the only thing that makes sense of the proverb: "Honest scales and balances belong to the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of His making" (Proverbs 16:11).

But there's another reason we should care about corruption. As is so often the case, those standing at the end of line when it comes to the consequences of corrupt behaviour are the poorest. The widow and the orphan, the vulnerable and the oppressed: the ones Jesus consistently challenged us to care for and to speak up for. Christians should not be selective in speaking up to moral issues alone. We have rightly lobbied about morality, and the education and health of our children and families. But we should also cast our net wider and wake up to the reality of the global systems that adversely affect millions.

There is a common misconception that corruption is all about bad governments pillaging their nations. But in fact deliberate illicit cash flows account for three to five percent of the global loss – between US$30-US$50 billion each year. The vast majority (about 50 per cent) is the result of illicit flows from goods and mispriced commodities.The fact that corruption has so often been identified exclusively as something bad governments do in Africa has made many Christians reluctant to get involved. We assume the issue is simple enough: stop giving our money to bad governments and let them sort themselves out while we look after the poor. Effectively this leads to poor advocacy on systemic structures (including the very ones that inhibit our own charitable work), undermining our philanthropy and social action. Worse still, it is an abdication of our prophetic task, an abdication of our global citizenship, and poor theology.

Any Christian serious about the Bible is obliged to be serious about biblical advocacy. Corruption has devastating effects that we all have a responsibility to take seriously. God has left us with no mandate to be mute.

Rev Joel Edwards is International director of Micah Challenge and International co-ordinator of the EXPOSED campaign. EXPOSED is a global Christian coalition established to shine a light on corruption in government, business and church. Sign the Global call to end corruption and get involved in the week of action 14-20 October 2013.

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